I was recently reading one of those message boards where two people were going at each other about religion in a not so pleasant way. One of them stated ‘religion is the root of all evil’. When it comes down to it if you look at how Webster’s Online Dictionary defines religion and the state of some religions that have existed over times past and present, I might actually agree with the statement.
Websters def “Religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”
At one point in my life I really agreed that religion wasn’t necessarily evil, but it sure did have a lot to question. That is until some coincidences turned my world upside down.
I grew up in a very religious home. My Dad converted from being a Protestant to Catholic (in those days that was enough to be disowned and he practically was as his Mother refused to attend their wedding). Mom and he spent as much time on church activities as they did with us 8 kids. She would bring home the altar coverings and ‘holy towels’ as a service to the parish washing them weekly. She acted as if they were the shroud of Turin insuring they were treated sacredly. I don’t think they ever missed a mass and if you count bingo for her and K of C golf for Dad as a religious activity, they dedicated most of their lives to the church.
Before anyone gets their fur ruffled, it worked well for my parents. Their belief system worked for them just fine and their commitment level exemplified that it was very real to them, and was by no means an evil institution, it just didn’t happen to be my cup of tea. Ultimately God is the final judge on hearts and He runs the replay booth in the end, not me or any other person on this earth.
For me, I saw it as a no choice requirement to make it to church every weekend. I lived as the nice quiet perfect catholic boy all the way through 10th grade. I was so good, bullies used to smash my brown bag sandwiches I brought to lunch each day just to try and make me cuss. When I hit the age of driving the urge to quit the game and go have some fun kicked in with reckless abandon. Going to church was still a requirement but my brothers and I soon worked out a system to get around that. We took turns weekly as to who would stop by the church and grab a few weekly bulletins to show Mom evidence we made it to mass. It worked for a bit until she of course caught me.
I remember vividly that day as I nearly gave my Mom a heart attack when at the age of 16 I declared I did not believe in God. And especially I told her, I didn’t believe in her religion that forced me to go to church every weekend. I sarcastically lambasted the leaders of her church that condemned the ‘sins’ of drugs, alcohol, and sex, while I watched the same dudes down the full bottle of wine after the last mass of the day. The very bottle they earlier had claimed was the ‘blood’ of Jesus. I reminded her of the recent examples, even in those days 36 years ago, of the ones who lost their collars because of alcoholism, affairs with nuns or abusing altar boys. Was the religion evil, no, but some of those in leader roles may have been.
I waited for the bolt of lightning to hit! …. It did not.
And although I felt guilty as hell for my statements, it felt freeing to get rid of the ball and chain. It wasn’t long before smoking, drinking and toking became a routine. It became a ritual to stop by my friends, called ‘grits’ in my days, and get stoned on the way to school, during, and after. We were cool though being in the unique group as a grit and sports ‘jock’. To me it became a game to see how much I could get away with. Being extremely shy and a nervous sort I felt a calming and confidence from it. One day we stretched the habit and partied before a varsity baseball game. That day I went 5-6 and thought, wow, this stuff is really good.
It didn’t take long before the other side effects of partying kicked in and began to take its toll on my school work, attitude and stupidity. Over time after my declaration and many days and nights of partying that followed, a bunch of eye openers happened in my life altering my view on God. Like the evening I was out using my fake ID on a school night and got home at 2:30 a.m. and woke up to find my car parked on the lawn. I had no idea how I even got home. Something or somebody was watching over me to get me home. Many more close calls and odd things that some would call coincidences occurred. I began searching for help and today laugh at the absurdity of ‘mere chance’ happening in my life ALL the time, ever since.
I messed up my chances for scholarships and decided to join the Army to straighten my life out and plan for a career in of all things, police work. I hated seeing bad people get away with things and thought that would be a way to have a good life (once I got straightened out of course). Little did I know being an MP in the Army was to bring the exact opposite. We were the heaviest of partiers and prided ourselves on it. Instead of getting on the right path it grew worse and my spiral downward grew deeper. Reality is the service seemed to make me worse than I was before. Instead of fighting crime some of us MP’s used our power to do things like bust kids for possession of pot, let them go but confiscate their stash, and then go off and smoke it ourselves. I felt guilty and trapped like there was no escape.
The culmination happened one night when a group of my Army buddies at Edgewood, MD and I on a night of heavy partying decided to challenge a place called dead man’s curve. It’s name came from legendary stories about several fatal accidents that had occurred there. Normally I am quite chicken and usually smarter but I allowed stupidity and the cheering of four other drunks in the car to persuade my foot to hit the gas as we were heading into the curve.
As we rounded the corner and my car flew, literally, through the air, horror flashed through my eyes and apparently so through the other 4 passengers. Somehow the car landed solidly on 4 wheels, bounced a couple times, then screeched itself onto the curved road and landed as if nothing had happened. The car sustained no damage, but all 3 guys in the back seat had big lumps on the top of their heads, noticed the next morning, as proof of something horrific taking place. Silence took over the inside of the car coupled with an unmentioned stench exhuming from the pants of one of them. None of us wanted to discuss what happened for weeks afterwards.
But for me, shortly thereafter more coincidences continued to happen and my eyes were becoming opened to a deeper need. I even tried attending the base Catholic church to see if that would help, but it did not. Then one day I received a phone call from a friend I called a Jesus freak from my high school who had been bugging me for months. ‘Coincidentally’, he was going to be near where I was stationed on a religious nut conference that coming weekend and he invited me to attend. The timing was so right I actually said yes and made plans to attend. I wanted real friends and alcohol made me un-shy and feel good inside. But after that near wreck and seeing my life was turning into a mess I knew it was time for a change on my habits and I needed real freedom from all the things bottled up inside of me. Ever feel that way yourself?
Freedom is what I wanted but I found freedom comes with a price and in reality, most people including me had no clue what freedom means. I didn’t believe in God because I felt I’d be tied down to rules and regulations. What I heard instead at that conference was God wants a non-forced relationship with us. He puts up with our crap and a lot of those totally against him, both in the spiritual realm (yeah I know that sounds cuckoo) and in the daily physical people realm, we see in this world. But He stands waiting for us to figure out whatever it is that make us not believe and provides opportunity to sift through the real and the fake (like bad religious examples we see). God patiently waits for each of us to come to our own conclusion and accept or reject His invitation.
At that time way back in 1980 I made a choice to believe that the Jesus I only saw as a statue in church before not only existed, but that he came down to earth and died and paid a huge price for freedom via sacrificing his own life for mine. He displaced religion, in fact it was the religious that had him put to death. I often ask myself and hear it from many, why doesn’t God just zap the bad guys and take the good guys and end it all. Thankfully, and I get choked up thinking about it, He did not do that before I had all those coincidences happen that made me stop and think that he was calling me to change. He was patiently standing as if at my front door knocking and waiting for me to let him in to start a relationship. If that zapping had come to fruition I don’t think I would have ended up in a place I really wanted to be for the rest of eternity. The thought that He could have given up on me overwhelms me with gratefulness at times.
Everything changed for me on that day in March of 1980. I was baptized on the spot in a cold outdoor pond near the campus of the University of Maryland and viewed all of my past getting washed away and on to a new life.
Funny it did not end there but just started. At that conference I was advised to go back to my Army base and find a good church (ugh) and learn more about the freedom I had found. Freedom from what? Freedom from slavery mentality to have to do things to please other people and try and prove to God with a do the right think mode I can only muster up sometimes (aka religion). Once you know you are free from that it becomes a want to situation, not a have to situation.
Anyway this is more of the weird portico stuff and I kid you not. I’m standing at my Army gate and some wildly dressed dude (he had on a patchwork suit jacket of multiple colors and odd hat) comes through the gate and tells me about a church up the road off base I should check out. He gave me directions and said ‘ask for me when you get there, everyone knows me’. So I took that as a sign, and I swear I heard a soft inner voice that said this is where you need to go, so I went that Sunday.
When I arrived, I told the people at this little church that this person in a patchwork jacket told me to ask for him. I describe the hat and the beat up car. They said no such person attended there, ever. I asked the address again to double check I was at the right place. No doubt it was. Is there a spiritual realm, you tell me? I’ve experienced things like that just on a few occasions to say the least, but it started a great relationship with a God who not only has a sense of humor, but I believe is there with me all the time.
Get this, I believe God’s Spirit actually dwells inside me, as that is what He said would happen if I accepted the invitation. I have seen Him heal people of sickness, financial ruin, and seen Him fix wrecked lives many times, including my own. Just this past week multiple ‘coincidences’ have happened in my own life, in my own family, and all around me, not because I believe it happened, it did happen. We have a 17 year old son despite losing 3 children to miscarriages and being told my wife would never be able to have a child again by the doctors. We saw that same young man be told by 3 different doctors a year ago that he’d need to take a certain medicine the rest of his life to have normalcy, yet today he is completely healed of the problem and not taking the meds. Yes maybe the docs were just wrong, but maybe God reached His hand down and healed, which I do believe He did.
The journey has had a lot of bounces as at times. I still with this skin on have to sift through life’s ups and downs as it does rain or shine on everyone. A relationship with God does not mean suddenly that you become a millionaire and all your problems go away. It does however start a brand new journey and a new life with a new perspective.
I am so glad I made that decision and love the fact God allows me the chance, like now, to tell others that might be searching for that same freedom about that relationship. And like any relationship I have my fights, doubts, fears and even say and do things to Him I’d like to take back. Tell me atheist do you say Satan Da&*it, when you slam your finger in the door? Or do you do what I shamefully said a few days ago after scalping my skull in the basement crawl space ? No promise of everything being perfect was made, nor me becoming perfect (except in God’s eyes I am) because of the decision. And no promise of a perfect leader is to be provided at all churches or in ‘religions’ was made either. The offer to begin though is there and the option to reject it or take it hangs to anyone who has not.
Do you Dare take the step to look deeper at where you stand? Feel free to email or post your questions, or comments or maybe you have a ‘coincidence’ or two you’d like to post on hear as well, please do. I don’t require a log in, so ask away and make comments anonymously (in good taste please).